October 11, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 41

Earnest seeking contract to 2014

Casting a tie-breaking vote, Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott stopped an assembly motion Tuesday aimed at extending manager Mark Earnest’s contract through June 2014.

With Scott’s vote, the assembly agreed, 4-3, to postpone the matter to Nov. 6, when Earnest has been asked to make a formal proposal.

“My concern is that it’s a big decision,” Scott said. “I’m uncomfortable with something coming up with so little public notification. All the notification that’s been in the public record has been about a transition (to a new manager). That’s what the public was expecting. We can change course, but I’d like to do it a little more deliberately and thoughtfully.”

Members Debra Schnabel, Norm Smith and Daymond Hoffman voted for postponement. Members Joanne Waterman, Steve Vick and Jerry Lapp opposed delaying a vote to extend the contract.

Waterman’s motion to extend Earnest’s contract, as well as Earnest’s statement earlier in the meeting that he was interested in another year on the job, came as surprises to many in the room, including Mayor Scott, who sets the meeting’s agenda.

Discussion of Earnest’s contract wasn’t on the agenda or mentioned in Earnest’s written manager’s report. The assembly was scheduled to discuss a process for replacing Earnest under “new business” on the agenda, including whether to use a traditional hiring process or a “selection matrix.”

Earnest broached the matter as a verbal add-on to his manager’s report. “I did want to throw out a possible third option for the assembly’s consideration, of extending my contract another 12 months, if you want to put that into the mix,” he said. He cited several projects he said needed another year to “fully mature.”

Assemblyman Smith said voting to extend the contract Tuesday would be unfair to voters because the vote would include Hoffman, who is vacating an assembly seat recently won by Dave Berry.

“Mr. Hoffman is seated here tonight, but he won’t be. Mr. Berry is coming in to fill his position,” Smith said. Hoffman told the assembly later in the meeting that he supported Earnest but that he voted for postponement due to his pending departure from the assembly.

Waterman said keeping Earnest another year was “an excellent opportunity to extend continuity” through several borough projects and get them “more on their feet.”

Lapp said, “I think Mark has done us a good job. This would alleviate us from having to go on a search for a new manager.”

Smith questioned a sequence of events that included Earnest’s March 26 resignation, followed by his request in June to stay on the job until July 2013. The borough was two months into a new manager search when Earnest changed his mind about leaving in June.

“I think this is entirely out of order. What prevents the manager from changing his mind Dec. 31st and deciding he’s going to leave anyway? This is what happened last time… My question is, when does it end? ” Smith said.

Schnabel called Waterman’s motion “highly unusual” and said the borough would always have projects in the mix. “We can’t continually use the continuation of projects for the reason for retaining personnel.”

“I’m very willing to continue to work with the manager, but I need to be more comfortable with the manner by which we make our decisions. This seems rather abrupt and contrived to me,” Schnabel said.

Waterman said she was seizing upon an opportunity. “I realize there’s been some going back and forth. We all have to make decisions in our lives centered around our jobs. I don’t feel bad about being flexible enough to allow people to change their minds,” she said. “Mark has done a very good job so far in pushing these projects forward.”

Waterman had also made the June motion to rescind assembly acceptance of Earnest’s March resignation letter.

During the meeting, Scott questioned whether Waterman’s motion was “in order.”

Clerk Julie Cozzi said the motion wasn’t out of order. “Technically the assembly can take action at any point on the agenda, from the time the meeting convenes until it adjourns,” Cozzi told the assembly.

After the meeting, Scott said she would defer to Cozzi on the question. “It is my understanding that once the assembly is convened, as long as the fact of a meeting has been properly posted, any action is legal. Whether or not taking that action is wise or politic is another question. In the interest of public engagement in governmental decisions, I prefer to enact decisions conceptually, if not specifically, related to subjects on the agenda.”

When he announced his retirement in March, Earnest said part of his decision was to get his son enrolled in a special school in the Lower 48. In June, Earnest said his son needed another year before enrolling in the school. On Tuesday, he said his son wouldn’t be enrolling at the school until fall of 2014.